In my previous blogs I’ve given you some tasks to perform and some warnings of issues that may appear when going barefoot. Now, I want to give you some tips on how to check the progress in your horse’s hoof development as you continue the transition process. Actually, these checks are good to perform on any horse no matter how long you’ve been bare.
First let’s look at hoof concavity at the point or apex of the frog. The depth of this bowl strangely correlates with the thickness of the sole tissue. This can be proven with dissection if you are interested. In general, the deeper the bowl or concavity at the frog point, the thicker the sole. Although there are exceptions, such as the case of one club footed horse I witnessed with a bowl depth of almost 3” and obviously the sole was not 3” thick. Normally I like to use 5/8” or 16mm as a good standard for the bowl depth/sole thickness. A sole this thick can usually allow a horse to be sound on some pretty tough terrain. Below is a photo of a hoof being measured pre-trim.
Note how I use the rasp to bridge across the standing hoof walls. I’m looking for a measurement from the point of my hoof pick to the bottom of my rasp. Also note that my hoof pick has a dot and a red mark across it to help me visualize the 5/8” desired depth. There are hoof picks available that have measurement standards etched on them. This may be helpful to you, but they get a little busy to read for me, especially if I’m working on a fidgety horse. So I just mark 5/8” on the pick and see how the hoof compares. Despite how the photo looks, this horse actually only had about 3/8” of bowl depth pre-trim. Well below ideal, but this horse has proven that he can pretty much go anywhere bare and WILL go anywhere with boots. So, now you can record this measurement and see if the depth increases or decreases over time. BUT REMEMBER, horses can’t see the bottom of their feet and they don’t care what the depth measures if they are comfortable and sound. Only humans really care about numbers. You can also check the depth of the collateral grooves (CG) at the rear of the foot. The CG are the deep grooves running alongside the frog. I generally expect the measurement at the deepest spot of the CG, at the rearmost point, to be 3/8” to ½” deeper than the measurement of the bowl depth taken at the point of the frog. This corresponds to the coffin bone inside the foot being elevated at the heels slightly. Below is a photo of this depth being checked. Note the dot and red line on the hoof pick represent about 1” or 25mm. Again, the photo doesn’t accurately depict the measurement. It actually measures about 7/8”.
These measurements can be a great aid in determining if you should leave some hoof wall height to protect a thin sole or if the heel hoof wall height could be trimmed and added pressure be applied to the frog and back of the foot. But, never trim into live sole just to appease a human created standard. Always think of the health and comfort of the horse.
Lastly, I would like to give you a quick way of checking the toe angle of your horse. It’s been published that the “very normal” toe angle on the front hoof of a wild mustang is 54-55 degrees, with the rear hoof toe angle being “very normal” at 57-58 degrees. Also, the “very normal” toe length of these wild mustangs measured 3” from the ground to the top of the hoof wall at the hairline both front and rear. To make things easy on myself while crawling under a horse, I created a piece of plastic that has an angle of 55 degrees and a length of 3” along that edge. Of course there are dozens of hoof angle gages on the market. Some will provide measurements to the tenth of a degree. But, for me, I’m looking at a ballpark check on a horse that may not be real comfortable with some freaky trimmer crawling around underneath them. You can take a photo as I did or simply record the angle and hoof height for later comparison.
As you can see, this horse has a front hoof angle slightly more laid back than 55 degrees and a hoof height less than 3”. Not the end of the world. This horse is extremely sound and it’s major issue at this time is getting a good fit in a hoof boot. So, I will record the measurements and use these as a baseline to judge progress as we attempt to get the foot more developed and increase movement as spring and summer arrives. My takeaway from all of this is that measurements can provide you with a reference but, please never sacrifice the comfort or soundness of a horse to simply chase numbers. If your horse is sound consider yourself fortunate. Maybe make a few trimming and diet changes to see if you can improve the geometry of the hooves but always make the horse’s comfort and long term health your number one priority. Those trimming changes will likely be the topic of future blogs.
Former Farrier...turned Barefoot Trimmer, Specializing in Hoof Rehab
After learning to shoe horses and not totally believing in the concept, I found the barefoot trimming method and never put shoes on another horse.